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Public and University Library Collaboration

by on January 9, 2016

The St. Joseph County (IN) Public Library (SJCPL), in preparation for their strategic planning process, decided to take a closer look at the surrounding community and find out just who was using (and not using) the library. When they looked at the data that showed where their patrons were coming from, they found  a big gaping hole in their user base, right where the University of Notre Dame was located. So, when representatives from Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library approached SJCPL about a possible collaboration involving borrowing materials, they knew it was something they wanted to be a part of.

The Hesburgh Library, located on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, houses over four million volumes, so it’s hard to imagine that a collection of that size that would be lacking in any kind of materials. However, Hesburgh librarians noticed that students were asking for more leisure reading material, as well as requesting more popular materials through Interlibrary Loan.

While the library does have some popular titles, including Harry Potter (available in English, Gaelic, Spanish, German, and French) the focus of their collection isn’t on bestsellers. Tracey Morton, Manager of Frontline Services, explains: “The Hesburgh Libraries are not immune to the financial limitations that have been faced by our peer institutions, so our endowments are focused on acquiring materials necessary for academic success. As we investigated vendor services and their costs, the St. Joseph County Public Library was brought up in conversation as a possible option. Their librarians are already experts on what our young people are interested in reading and listening to. They have the material, and Notre Dame is within their borrowing area.”[1]

SJCPL needed patrons and Hesburgh needed easy access to popular materials, so teams from both the public and academic libraries began a discussion on how to form a partnership that would work for both sides. It was decided that Hesburgh would be set up as a destination for holds pick­up where university patrons, after registering for a public library card, would be able to request materials from SJCPL online or in person at Hesburgh. These materials would be delivered to the university library for pick­-up five days a week. University patrons would also have access to the full range of digital materials that are available anytime.

While the partnership seemed like a win­-win for both libraries, there were a couple of minor challenges that needed to be worked through before the project could be given the green light. Morton explains, “Networking was the greatest challenge. We had to have a terminal connected to the St. Joseph County Library on a static network. Connecting to an unaffiliated server would leave the Notre Dame network vulnerable to malicious attacks. If the network could not be secured, it would have ended the project.”[2] Fortunately, the network was able to be secured and Hesburgh was given permission to use the ILS at a non­SJCPL location. SJCPL provided Hesburgh with the ILS software, a barcode scanner, receipt printer, receipt tape, label maker (for names on library cards), label tape, a delivery bin, and SJCPL welcome brochures for new patrons. Lisa O’Brien, Head of Circulation Services at SJCPL says, “We had a bit of difficulty setting up our equipment with their computer. The signature pad we use for library card registration was not working with their computer, and they had difficulties with the barcode scanner. IT worked hard on these issues, and we were eventually able to work through it.”[3]

Once the technology and equipment issues were resolved, the next step was training Hesburgh staff on SJCPL policies and procedures. “I first trained Tracey Morton, Head of Frontline Services, here at Main Library. I then visited Hesburgh to train their circulation staff. I gave them step-­by-­step instructions on each Sierra function they would be using. I also gave them an overview of our loan rules, as well as specific instructions on how to register a patron for a library card. I gave them copies of the training documents, as well as a FAQ document they could refer to when needed,” explains O’Brien. [4]“Taking time to input patron information into the ILS for a library card is a new experience. Our patrons are automatically downloaded into our ILS nightly once they receive their university ID” adds Morton.[5]

The program officially began on August 25, the first day of the fall semester. There was a brief mention of the new partnership in the local paper, The South Bend Tribune, but so far, news of the service has mainly been through word of mouth. “One professor heard about it and had his entire architecture class come and sign ­up for library cards.” says Morton.[6] The response to the partnership has been small but positive and is expected to increase as more students and faculty become aware of the new service. “In November we plan on doing more campus advertising in time for the Christmas Break.” [7] SJCPL is keeping track of the number of new registrations and holds coming from Hesburgh and will be regularly sharing the data with Hesburgh. Although there are no immediate plans to expand at the services offered at Hesburgh or to extend to other area colleges SJCPL is open to the possibility.


  1. Tracey Morton (Manager of Frontline Services at Hesburgh), interview by Theresa Horn over e-mail on October 23, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lisa O’Brien (Head of Circulation Services at St. Joseph County Public Library), interview by Theresa Horn over e-mail on October 12, 2015.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Morton, Ibid.
  6. Morton, Ibid.
  7. Morton, Ibid.

Further Reading
McKenna, Matthew. “Hesburgh Libraries announces partnership with St. Joseph County Library.” The Observer. December 9, 2015. Web. Accessed January 5, 2016.

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